A vanished city lives again...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Nostalgia for a place I never knew...

I should be taking eBay auction pics right now, but I'm feeling too edgy.

So, I'm relaxing like I have been a lot lately – traveling back in time to 20th century Los Angeles.

It's amazing to me that I feel nostalgic for a place I fled from in terror 25 years ago.

But it's not actually that Los Angeles I journey to in my mind. Mostly it's to a Los Angeles I never knew; before WWII, when it was a real city – a downtown that people actually lived in, as opposed to commuting to.

The freeways changed all that, though. The freeways bled the life out of Los Angeles. By the time I was born in the mid-'50s, most working folks had already left the city for suburbia.

I think this postcard photo was taken around 1950. (That's a '49 Buick in the foreground, and I can't really see any cars on the freeway that look much newer.) It's the Hollywood Freeway westbound just as it's leaving the city center.

It's a pretty view, but from a historical perspective, what's interesting to me is seeing all those houses and trees on Bunker Hill (above the billboard). It was still a largely residential neighborhood in 1950. I don't remember it being like that when I was growing up in the '60s. I do remember when the fate of the last two houses on Bunker Hill became a matter of public debate around 1968, though. That's when I as a young man first really became aware that there ever was a neighborhood there (and a quite wealthy neighborhood it was in its time, too).

*chuckle* I still think it's strange that I think fondly of L.A., though, at any stage of its history. Strange it may be, but that's where my thoughts have been going a lot lately when my mind wanders, which has been fairly often. ;-)


Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Bradbury Building

Photo by J Scott Shannon.

Right after you got your driver's license, where was the very first place you drove to on your own? Do you remember? I sure do! As soon as I could talk my dad into loaning me his car for a day, of all places, I went here – to the Bradbury Building, at 304 S. Broadway in Los Angeles. I couldn't wait to see this place with my own eyes. I was 16 years old then, and the Bradbury Building was, at least in an architectural sense, my first love...

Photo by J Scott Shannon.

I'd learned about the Bradbury Building via a favorite TV show called "Ralph Story's Los Angeles," and what I saw really struck a chord in me. For starters, I could hardly believe such an old building still existed in Los Angeles (it was built in 1889-1893). I'd grown up in the L.A. area and I never heard of the place before, and neither had my parents, both of whom had lived most of their lives in the southland.

Just to look at it, though, you can understand why the Bradbury Building didn't attract a lot of attention. It doesn't appear to be anything special at all from the outside. It's the interior design of the place that sets it apart from all others of its time, and still makes it a standout to this day...

Introducing the world's first modern open atrium office building.

Photo by J Scott Shannon.

Photo by J Scott Shannon.

Heh. Are you thinking maybe you've seen this interior space before? Well, you probably have! (It was J.F. Sebastian's apartment building in Blade Runner.) :-)

I remember the day so well – I'd dragged my friend Gary along for the ride, and it being a Saturday, we had the whole building essentially to ourselves. It was great! We went up and down one of the ancient elevators at least twice. (It was surprisingly quiet, as I recall.)

*sighs* I always wanted to be an architect when I was growing up, but my teachers and counselors finally convinced me that I didn't have the math or art skills to be good at it. (Thanks a bunch, folks.) I should have just gone ahead and done it anyway. I know now I could have been great. I've always had an eye for beauty in buildings. By and large, I'm very disappointed with the quality of the architecture my generation has produced. I know I'd've done a lot better if I'd had the chance...